Saturday, September 4, 2010

Of Nerds and Whitepapers, Satellites and Cynics

You know you are a nerd if...You spend your spare time writing technical whitepapers. And that's what I've been doing. Apparently, it's not nerdy enough that, for the last two years, I have spent at least 40 hours a week--and often many more--working on contract for a software company for whom, among other things, I write whitepapers. No, in my spare time I feel compelled to write more.

Not that the world is papered with my whitepapers. Many don't see the light of day, not because they're not good, but because a whitepaper often has to hit a moving target and few targets move faster than a software startup. However, I will soon be releasing one of my "spare time" whitepapers because the target is, as I see it, frozen in the headlights of public attention.

That target is the terrestrial telcos, the nation's broadband providers, the folks making loads of money delivering big fat juicy bandwidth to urban and suburban consumers, maximizing their profits by avoiding servicing the rural areas through which their bandwidth passes on its way from one profit center to another.

This seems to be a very American problem. In many civilized countries there are universal service requirements with respect to broadband (as there are in America with respect to telephone service). In order to stave off broadband service requirements in America the terrestrial telcos have formed an alliance with the non-terrestrial telcos, that is, the satellite Internet service providers. The strategy? Convince politicians and government regulators that every rural American can get broadband (without the need for running fiber optic cable or coaxial cable or DSL phone lines) because satellite Internet service is available everywhere. The problem I have with this is summed up in the title of my forthcoming whitepaper: SATELLITE IS NOT BROADBAND.

That's right, satellite is not broadband and it never will be. And the terrestrial telcos know this. The non-terrestrial telcos say as much on their own websites. (The short version: there's too much latency and not enough capacity, so satellite Internet cannot realistically support VPN, streaming movies, real-time trading, VoIP, automated software patching, interactive learning systems, or SaaS applications.)

Despite this, the strategy of "Let them eat satellite" is being pursued by lobbyists in state capitals and our nation's capitol. For example, the FCC website at www.broadband.gov now lists satellite as a broadband option, which is like the U.S. Department of Transportation saying motorcycles are an interstate freight delivery option. The bankrolling of this cynical hoax by the terrestrial telcos upsets me for a variety of reasons, the most immediate being:

a. Where I live we can't get proper broadband right now (Time Warner Cable's business division recently told me it would cost "over $100,000" to bring cable to my home office, even though they offer cable service less than 5 miles from here).

b. We can't afford to change where we live (that's not the fault of the terrestrial telcos, although they do seem to be guilty of perpetuating an attitude that says "If you can't get broadband where you live, just move to one of our service areas").

c. I recently committed myself to raising public awareness of a potentially fatal genetic disorder, widespread ignorance of which causes much needless pain and suffering. This project would go a lot better if my current Internet connection didn't suck so badly. (You can see the first phase of the project at www.CelticCurse.org.)

d. My current Internet connection is satellite Internet service, which is NOT broadband.

So, as I prep the presses for this whitepaper, I am marshaling my arguments and rounding up my footnotes. My hope is to provide--in the form of a well-argued and well-documented whitepaper--powerful ammunition for the patriotic forces of fairness and justice now arrayed against the self-interested terrestrial telcos.

ATELLITE IS NOT BROADBAND



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